PASADENA, Calif. — When Carolyn McKinstry hears that young survivors of a mass shooting like last month's in Connecticut are receiving counseling, she can speak to its value through her own experience — or lack of it.
McKinstry was 15 years old when she survived the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where four girls were killed. It was a key moment in the civil rights movement.
The only time the bombing was mentioned in her own home during the aftermath was when the FBI came to interview her, said McKinstry on Saturday. Still, her parents listened but didn't talk about it. McKinstry appeared at a news conference Saturday about the Investigation Discovery network film about the civil rights movement, "March to Justice," which will air in February.
"My parents didn't ask, 'are you afraid?'" she said. "It wasn't mentioned ever — at home, at church or at school."
Only many years later did McKinstry learn that she suffered from depression and a form of survivor's guilt. It was heightened by her experience answering a phone at the church just before the bombing where someone said only, "three minutes," and hung up.
While she wished her parents had said something about the bombing, she realized that it was a different time. Six months after the church bombing, the windows in McKinstry's home were blown out when a bomb went off in the middle of the night across the street.
"I tried to imagine what (my father) would say to me," she said. "He couldn't say, 'don't be afraid, daddy's going to protect you.' He couldn't say 'this is never going to happen again.' There wasn't anything that he could possibly say that would be consoling."
McKinstry, who lives in Birmingham now and works at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, said she's glad to hear about it when survivors of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., received counseling.
"I don't know who came up with it, but I'm so grateful that it's there," she said. "We probably can't imagine the kinds of things that we head off by allowing time for healing and for that discussion."